Reality Check: Living in Paradise Can Be a Nightmare (but It Doesn’t Have to Be)

“I love it here”, “I don’t understand why they do it that way”, “I can’t stand it”, “I’m done”, “I’m so glad I didn’t leave”, “I love it here!” 

This, my friends, is an example of the ups and downs of living out your dream in paradise. Big ideas like moving to another country always sound fun and “easy” on paper, but the reality is always much more challenging. You start out excited to plan and manifest your idea, then you move, and for a while, all “first-time” activities feel unique and quaint.  

But at some point, the dream starts feeling like a nightmare and the day-to-day challenges become increasingly more challenging. This is a time that will test you and your plans, possibly to the point you’re unsure you want to pursue your dream anymore.  I’m not going to lie, this is a reality.

There are days still today I think “WTF am I doing?”  But then I earn a small victory, or accomplish a big task, see the toucans and monkeys in my trees, and realize this is truly where I want to be. 

It’s important for each of us to ask: “Living here, how do we get past the challenges that might derail our goals?  How do we live the dream we are developing?”  This article is meant to give you both some reality, and hope.

So how do you define yourself in the journey?

Phases of an International’s Journey in Costa Rica

The Tourist / DREAMER Phase

You — like almost all of us — came to Costa Rica on vacation, maybe with a kernel of an idea to one day move away from where you’re from to a very different way of life — one that is more relaxed, naturally stunning, filled with gracious locals, and (from the surface) simple.  In this phase, you go to the tourist locations, do the touristy stuff (even if that is a yoga retreat vs. ziplining), and most likely have a guide or some way to navigate that allows you to succeed.  Yes, there can be issues in this phase that stop your exploration, but assuming you returned home energized you move into

The Excited EXPLORER Phase

You’ve done the research. You’ve narrowed down your options in terms of countries, and areas.  You may come back for one or more scouting trips — to narrow the search more and really explore the area: seeing if you can be ok with local grocery/shopping/restaurant options, seeing if you find housing you like, and exploring regional experiences and sights.  You’ve gone home and built the spreadsheets, made PowerPoint presentations to excite your family, and crunched the numbers.  You’re ready to pull the trigger but might need help pulling the trigger.  Assuming you make the leap, you enter

The Newly Arrived HONEYMOON Phase 

Ask anyone who has moved to Costa Rica (or any international location outside their own country) and you will hear that this is an exceptionally exciting time.  You’re nesting and making your house a home.  You’re exploring past your new town to experience more.  You’re meeting locals and fellow expats alike.  Even the challenges you face (getting insurance, maybe buying the house or car, or setting up a local wifi or cell account) seem romantic and quaint.  Yes, it takes multiple trips to the bank to try and set up a tourist bank account, and yes the process seems both invasive and haphazard, but you’re doing it: you’re living the life you dreamt about!  You are now a Puravidist!

But then comes The Hard Smack of Reality

  • You are no longer at home and your “go-to” ways of working just don’t work here.
  • Technology and infrastructure can be good where you live, but they can also break at any time.  That’s as true for your internet service as it is for the quality of the roads and electricity during a storm.
  • No processes — especially those dealing with financial transactions — run smoothly or expediently.
  • There are few fallbacks you are used to: no Yelp, no AAA, no Angie’s List, and definitely no local urgent care clinic open all night that takes your insurance.  
  • Cultural norms mean your need for fast service and five-star treatment — while your priority — is probably not thought of as an emergency by the person coming to help you.  
  • English is not the international language you think it should be — and your lack of Spanish is becoming an issue.
  • You cannot get all the brands you are used to, and many that are here will feel inferior.
  • The cost of living isn’t cheap, especially if you want to get that bottle of maple syrup, or a cordless vacuum.  And Amazon shopping — is not worth it with the import fees that can push costs up two or three times.  And when the dollar’s value softens, this can be even more challenging.

You are now in the CHALLENGE Phase

It is important to remember that some of these challenges occur REGARDLESS of where you move.  Any new town and any new adventure will have challenges.  What separates Costa Rica from so many of the other top Expat destinations is that this country is truly a developing nation which means it operates far from what we are used to in the “West”.  Even then it’s important to remember that this difference is probably one of the selling points for you moving here in the first place.

True, some of us split our time — so we can get our fill of what we are used to when home, can buy a bunch of stuff from Trader Joe’s and Ikea and bring it back down with us.  Even this small step helps manage some of the challenges outlined above.  But for many, this isn’t a possibility.  If you are on a fixed income or not able to commute back and forth then you have to rely on others to help bring things down, or you have to be ok with finding a solution.  Thus the challenge phase is the time when many decide they don’t want to struggle to be in a different place and return home.  

This begs the question: how do you break past the challenge phase and really — 

Live into your Dream

I am in no way trying to minimize the challenges of living abroad, and specifically living in Costa Rica.  I too face these same challenges every day.  This is exactly why we created Your Pura Vida.  We wanted to help our fellow internationals succeed and enjoy their successes, but more importantly to help you get past the challenge phase that may send some of you back home.  WE DON’T WANT THAT.  What we want for you, for ourselves, and for all who choose to live in paradise is to get to the PURAVIDIST phase — where you are thriving while dealing with all of the day-to-day issues that we all face everywhere we live.

We believe that our community — and the country as a whole — succeeds because you succeed and thrive.  What gets you from challenge to thriving is committing to the journey.  No, it won’t always be easy, but it can be easier.  That’s where Your Pura Vida comes in.  Our purpose is to come alongside you, to help you navigate the complexities and differences that can be paralyzing.  We don’t DO the work for you, because that means you aren’t learning how to thrive but rather you are learning to rely on others. 

What we do is help you find the very best possible resources in your area for your concerns.  Our primary role is vetting service providers and then helping those providers understand the needs of working with internationals.  We are your partner, a voice of reassurance, and your fellow expats.  

Our model is helping you by giving you the tools to help yourself; helping fill in the low points of the curve so you can see the light at the end of the tunnel more brightly.  True, sometimes what you need is to have the problem go away, and we try where possible.  But truly the best expats are those of us who gain the confidence to live and thrive ourselves.  

This is YOUR paradise, your dream.  Let’s get you past the challenges.  Let’s see you THRIVE!

And as always: Pura Vida!